Basic Information Sheet: Hamster



Natural history

Hamsters are short, stocky rodents with an abundance of loose skin. Today’s pet or laboratory hamster, known as the Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus), was bred from a small group of hamsters removed from a burrow near Syria in 1930 as well as 11 more collected in 1971 and three in 1978.


Class: Mammalia

Order: Rodentia

Suborder: Myomorpha

Family: Cricetidae-gerbils, lemmings, muskrats, New World rats and mice, voles


The Syrian hamster is also known as the Golden hamster because the colony were reddish-gold, however many varieties exist today. Dwarf hamsters may also be seen in practice.


Hamsters can do very well on a commercial rodent chow (24% protein) supplemented with vegetables and a small amount of fruit. Hamsters fed seed-based diets are very sensitive to vitamin E deficiency.


Hamsters are nocturnal. As desert animals, the Syrian hamster instinctively burrows and hoards food. Adult Syrian and Chinese hamsters are fiercely territorial and should be housed singly. Winter white Russian and Russian Campbell hamsters are social, however it is still ill advised to introduce new individuals to a group.

Hamsters can enter torpor if temperatures fall below 41°F (5°C), particularly when exposed to short days.

Normal physiologic values

Temperature 97-102.3°F 36.1-38.9°C
Pulse 250-500 bpm
Respiration 34-114 bpm
Body weight Adult male 85-110g
Adult female 95-130 g
Mean life span 2-3y Maximum 4y 18-36 months
Sexual maturity 6-8 weeks 6 wks (F) 8 wks (M) For optimal breeding, males should be 10-12 weeks old and females 8-10 weeks.
Gestation 15-18 days
Birth weight 2-3 g
Litter size 4 to 12 Maximum 17
Weaning age 3-4 weeks
Target environmental temperature: 68-75°F 20-24°C
Target environmental humidity: 40-60%
Water Intake: 9-12 ml/day
Russian hamsters live 1.5-2 years.

Anatomy / physiology

Derm: Sebaceous flank glands are present in both genders, but are better developed with darker pigmentation in males.
  1. Incisors become yellow with age due to iron pigments.
  2. Distensible cheek pouches extend back to the shoulders
  3. Non-glandular forestomach and a glandular stomach
Renal: Syrian hamster urine is normally creamy and turbid.
Reproductive: Females pass a thick, creamy white post-ovulatory discharge.
Each uterine horn opens into a separate cervix.
Physiology: Syrian hamsters will hibernate if kept in a cool area with limited food.Syrian hamsters possess renal and respiratory water conservation mechanisms,
however unlike some desert rodents they cannot survive on metabolic water.


Syrian hamsters tend to bite, especially when awakened from a deep sleep or put through excessive or prolonged restraint.
To pick up, cup hamsters in both hands. To restrain, grasp the loose skin over the thorax.
Roborovskii hamsters are gentle and docile, but very fast.

Venipuncture is challenging in the hamster. The jugular and saphenous veins may be tried. The Syrian hamster has a rapid coagulation time so it may help to heparinize needles.

Important medical conditions

  • Adrenocortical hyperplasia and adenomas
  • Cheek pouch impaction
  • Ocular proptosis
  • Proliferative ileitis or “wet tail”

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Alworth L, Simmons J, Franklin C, Fish R. Clostridial typhlitis associated with topical antibiotic therapy in a Syrian hamster. Lab Anim 43:304-309, 2009.

Banks RE, Sharp JM, Doss SD, Vanderford DA. Exotic Small Mammal Care and Husbandry. Durham, NC: Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.

Mitchell MA, Tully TN. Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

Quesenberry KE, Carpenter JW (eds). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, WB Saunders, 2004.

O’Malley B (ed). Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species. Saunders Elsevier. 2005. Pp. 227-236.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic Information sheet: Hamster. Feb 14, 2010. LafeberVet Web site. Available at